How to make independence work Independent styling houses pre-date in- house design studios, having stemmed from the coach building trade that in turn pre- dated the car industry. Today the large established independent designers struggle with a high cost base, a need to use capacity and are often most profitable in the engineering and production services they offer. But smaller independent design studios are increasingly succeeding in offering what OEM design groups need and what the established independents can't provide: project- based design teams where individuals are brought in for their specific capabilities, combined with low overheads; high quality design at relatively low cost. This is where the ' super independent' company comes in. Such a company runs on zero overheads and disposable support teams. It is best to rent, as you need both facilities and talents, which can be tailored to the specific requirements and locations of the client. All projects ebb and flow, so it doesn't make financial sense to have large studios and lots of staff if the projects don't demand it; bring in talent and procure services on a project- by- project basis. The MCE MC1 is a project that had a UK engineering firm as client, limited fixed budget and a small support staff. The design budget was tight and many sacrifices had to be made. Thus, only two super designers working mainly digitally did all of the design. This is where the balancing trade- off comes in - between digital modeling gateways and physical fabrication. Cars are big animals that need to be seen and physically touched. However, fabricating costs and should only be done when necessary. The super designers worked masterfully digitally to have instant communication with the engineers, and could analyse surfaces full size on
powerwalls. Eventually the digital model must go to full- size in order to mould the panels, and also see the real car. Cost- effective production Fabricating clay models is not only expensive on materials but manpower. A clay buck can cost ? 90,000 to build, depending on complexity. The man- hours smoothing that clay into 100% feasibility consumes years and millions at most OEMs. However, nothing is more expensive ( or inexpensive) as the decision- making processes of the development team at hand. Thus, going to full- size should only be done once most of the engineering package problems are solved, and the style is as far as it can go digitally. When this time comes and digital technology can finally deceive our brains into thinking the model is real, we will then have an opportunity to further speed up development times and reduce fabrication costs. There are also many parts, mostly in the interior, that need to be quickly produced for ergonomic reasons and are cheaper to fabricate by rapid prototyping. As with any project, the trick to saving internal budgets lies within the right time to fabricate versus what can be solved digitally. With the MCE MC1 project, the balance is in the eyes of the super designers and the technologies at hand, which are, of course, always evolving. The main point is that designers can no longer afford to be specialized, we must be more mastered in all areas of our job in order to survive. In today's tough and competitive environment, where the OEMs themselves are starving for budgets and work, there is unfortunately not much left over for the super independents to support on. It could be the case in the near future where the OEMs themselves have no permanent staff, and also rely on the super independents for ' project-based outsourcing' requirements. This situation might work and be a clever niche for the trusted few super independents. However, if this doesn't work, we might have to consider designing products other that just cars! As automotive designers, we no longer live in a world of relaxed specialization, however instead in a reality requiring masterful flexibility. more information? click here!